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Department of Education proposes mandatory ethics violation reporting

Newly proposed rules could mandate the report of any ethical violations in South Dakota classrooms. While problem teachers need to be dealt with, some paused at the scope of the proposal.

This proposal was in front of the state legislature last session as Senate Bill 39, but it was pulled by the Department of Education before the bill was able to reach committee.

A similar proposal was discussed by the legislative interim rules review committee this week.

“This rule would require individuals, specifically educators, that have knowledge that is not privilege of another educator has violated the code of ethics – they have to report that to the department," said Department of Education attorney Amanda LaCroix. "The reporting mechanism is such that it gets reported to both the legal department at the Department of Ed and the Division of Accreditation and Certification.”

For education secretary Joseph Graves, it’s a way to increase accountability in schools.

“Though it is the opinion of the DoE that this obligation existed prior to the adoption of the rule that its inherent in the code of ethics itself, it’s quite clear from a lack of adherence to it from a number of different situations that the obligation is not felt by them," Graves said. "It is not being understood in a way and thus needs to be specifically stated and communicated.”

Graves said there is evidence, found largely in non-disclosure agreements between school districts and offending educators, that serious ethical violations in South Dakota schools are going unpunished. He said this often only kicks a trouble employee to another district instead of adequately punishing them.

There was opposition to the proposal presented by South Dakota Educators Association lobbyist Jerimiah Murphy. He said the department is looking at the wrong problem.

“Maybe rather than building that whole second fence around the corral and have everything have to be reported down to very minor human resources issues, maybe we need to fix the non-disclosure agreement issue," Murphy said. "Maybe we need to develop a policy or practice that says ‘no, you can’t agree to those things.’ I don’t know what the right answer is, but we are confident this is not the right answer.”

Murphy raised other concerns, including expense, anonymity and a top-heavy reporting mechanism that would send every report, genuine or otherwise, to Pierre.

Ultimately, a 3-3 vote means the proposal failed to pass the board, but a second 4-2 vote reverted the rules writing process back to the DoE.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture